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Pa. city considers offering tax incentives to volunteer responders

Active volunteer responders could get a 20 percent credit on their municipal real estate taxes and a rebate on earned income taxes

By Joe Napsha

IRWIN, Pa. — Irwin residents who are active firefighters with the borough’s volunteer fire department could get a tax break as an incentive to remain active as well as to attract more volunteers.

“I am very interested in pursuing that (idea),” Irwin Council President Rick Burdelski said Wednesday at a council meeting. Council will consider the proposal at a May 2 workshop session, Burdelski said.

“It may lure some people to volunteer,” Irwin Fire Chief Justin Mochar said.

Active volunteer firefighters, as well as those involved with emergency medical services such as an ambulance company, can get a 20 percent credit on their municipal real estate taxes and a rebate on earned income taxes under Act 172, a state law that took effect in January 2017.

Giving the active firefighters a tax break would have “minimal impact” on the borough’s finances, said Burdelski.

Councilwoman Leslie Savage agreed that it would not result in the loss of much revenue because the borough’s real estate tax levy averages about $500 per residence, so the town would lose only about $100 each from any active firefighter who owns a home in the borough.

“That’s nothing when these guys are risking their lives,” Mochar said.

The state law was designed to bolster the ranks of the volunteer fire departments. Mochar noted that the number of volunteer firefighters have dropped by 50 percent twice in the past 40 years. The Irwin fire department has about 35 active firefighters—18 from North Huntingdon and 17 from Irwin, the chief said.

“You have generational families (grandfather, father and son) coming through the fire department, but that will be gone,” sometime in the future, Mochar said.

While the state sets the maximum amount of tax breaks a municipality can give its active volunteers, the criteria for determining who is eligible for the tax breaks is set locally. Mochar said he likely would offer a set of requirements for getting the tax breaks that are modeled after the requirements set by North Huntingdon.

In North Huntingdon, which became the first municipality in the county to offer the tax breaks, firefighters qualify for the aid if they have at least one year of service, respond to 10 percent of the emergency calls, take 20 hours of annual training and help with 35 percent of the fundraising events. EMS volunteers are considered active if they provide 120 hours of service, including staffing hours, meetings and training.

Noting the constant need for fundraising, Mochar remarked that, “we’re full-time fundraisers, part-time firefighters.”

With Irwin residents volunteering on North Huntingdon fire companies and about 18 North Huntingdon residents, including Mochar, serving on Irwin’s fire department, Zachary Kansler, borough solicitor, recommended that any incentives be linked to an intermunicipal agreement that offers ones that are similar to what North Huntingdon is doing.

“It’s a small token to help our guys out,” Mochar said.

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